Georgia lawmaker returns to Capitol after her controversial arrest

Democratic state Rep. Park Cannon, her left arm in a sling, on Monday enters the House chambers at the Georgia Capitol escorted by Democratic state Reps. Erica Thomas, left, Rep. Sandra Scott, second from left, and Debra Bazemore, third from right. (Alyssa Pointer /

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

Democratic state Rep. Park Cannon, her left arm in a sling, on Monday enters the House chambers at the Georgia Capitol escorted by Democratic state Reps. Erica Thomas, left, Rep. Sandra Scott, second from left, and Debra Bazemore, third from right. (Alyssa Pointer /

With a solemn march circling the Georgia Capitol, state Rep. Park Cannon returned to the Statehouse on Monday for the first time since she was arrested after knocking on Gov. Brian Kemp’s private office while he was delivering remarks about the state’s new election restrictions.

Trailed by supporters clad in black T-shirts reading “Stand With Park,” Cannon wore a sling on her left arm as she walked with Martin Luther King III in a slow procession to the Capitol steps. She didn’t make any remarks as she entered the House chamber, though her supporters did.

“I’m here to stand with Park Cannon and to deplore the treatment that she received at the hands of Georgia state troopers,” said state Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta. “I hope you’ve seen the video because the rest of the world has seen it.”

Cannon’s arrest Thursday has become a symbol of raw emotions surrounding Georgia’s election overhaul, which imposes voter ID requirements, limits drop boxes and gives the Republican-controlled Legislature more control over local elections after Democratic wins in November and January.

The Atlanta Democrat was charged with two felonies after she repeatedly, and gently, knocked on a door outside Kemp’s second-floor Capitol office while he was delivering livestreamed remarks about the measure as authorities insisted that she stop.

As Kemp abruptly cut off his prepared speech, authorities outside his office dragged Cannon out of the building and to the Fulton County Jail, prompting an hours-long vigil attended by U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and other Democratic leaders.

Court documents show Cannon was charged with “knowingly and intentionally” knocking on the governor’s door during a bill signing and stomping on an officer’s foot three times “during the apprehension and as she was being escorted out of the property.”

Supporters surround Democratic state Rep. Park Cannon, center, as state Rep. Erica Thomas, foreground, escorts her into the House chambers at the Georgia Capitol. (Alyssa Pointer /

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

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Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

The footage of Cannon’s arrest quickly spread on social media, drawing attention to what Warnock framed as a desperate attempt to “squeeze the people out of their own democracy” and Republicans cast as a calculated ploy for attention.

“She wanted to make a scene and be arrested. I’m not mad at her. That’s her right as an individual,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, who sponsored the election legislation. “But don’t make her a martyr when she got what she went down there to do.”

Cannon has said she did nothing wrong and called the elections law “direct retaliation” for Democratic victories in Georgia. She said she would “continue fighting white supremacy in all its forms.”

Her attorney, Gerald Griggs, has vowed to fight the charges and invoked state law that says legislators are “free from arrest during sessions of the General Assembly” except for charges of treason, felonies or breach of the peace.

State Rep. Park Cannon walks to the Capitol on Monday with Martin Luther King III at her side.

Credit: John Spink

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Credit: John Spink

State officers were already facing scrutiny after then-state Sen. Nikema Williams was arrested during a 2018 protest in the Capitol Rotunda. The charges were later dropped, and Williams, now a U.S. House member, filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the arrests of protesters during a legislative session.

Republican supporters of the measure took specific aim at Cannon, saying they saw a pattern with her behavior.

Earlier this legislative session, Cannon was involved in another confrontation when she positioned herself in front of an officer’s bullhorn before another trooper took hold of her arm to escort her away. The conflict led to a brief sit-in on the stairs of the Capitol.

“This is about publicity,” said state Sen. Randy Robertson, a Cataula Republican and former law enforcement officer. “It’s time for us to stand up behind the men and women who protect us in this building.”

Democrats saw a different sort of troubling pattern emerge: two arrests of Black female legislators during a legislative session at the Capitol in the span of three years. House Minority Leader James Beverly called for a “review of how we treat legislators during session.”

“At this particular point, passions are going to run. There is a way to de-escalate a situation that doesn’t lead to someone being criminalized because they knocked on a door,” he said.

“We have to take this up. We have no option,” Beverly said. “We can’t continue to go down this road because more members will find themselves in harm’s way through no fault of their own because they’re passionate in that moment.”

Others predicted a bright future for Cannon, a 29-year-old queer-identifying activist who won a special election to the House in 2016 on a platform of supporting abortion rights and other liberal issues.

Orrock drew a comparison between Cannon and Williams, who succeeded the late civil rights icon John Lewis in the U.S. House.

“Nikema’s in Congress now,” Orrock said. “Where will Park Cannon be?”